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Dolls are a major trope when it comes to the genres of horror and supernatural. They are the makings of deep-seeded fears for many people; fears that sprung either from encounters with scary films highlighting possessed dolls, or sometimes memories of horrid looking toys from people’s own childhoods. Needless to say, crafting a story about a doll in hopes of frightening readers is not a tricky feat.
What is tricky is constructing an entire anthology of stories, focused on the eerie circumstances around dolls, and having the outcome be an overwhelming success. In that light, The Doll Collection is a triumph. Edited by Ellen Datlow, The Doll Collection takes seventeen short stories, all by different authors, to create a book that will raise the hairs on the backs of everyone’s necks. Some of the short stories are light hearted with a touch of the supernatural thrown in, while most are straight up horror that will make the readers hold their breaths with wide eyes. The authors also throw in a varied amount of facts about both doll history and construction, which are quite enlightening. Doll aficionado or not, audiences will have a hard time not falling in love – while simultaneously being terrified – with these stories.
There’s not a whole lot The Doll Collection does wrong. With the exception of a select couple stories – “Gaze” is bogged down by tedious information, “After and Back Before” has a jarring setting that readers might not grasp, and “Visit Lovely Cornwall” has an unclear message and tone – the book is on point. The strongest quality of this anthology is the sheer amount of amazing writers who contributed to the book. Every story is beautifully told; even the stories that slow down the flow of the book are well written. All of the characters in these short stories are incredibly well-rounded, and the reader immediately gets a sense of what kind of tale they’re in for right away at the start of each new section. The strongest stories amongst the seventeen are “Skin and Bone” by Tim Lebbon, “The Kingdom of the Cold” by Seanan McGuire, “The Permanent Collection” by Veronica Schanoes, and “Daniels Theory About Dolls” by Stephen Graham Jones.
What is most admirable about these stories is the way dolls are portrayed. As Datlow states in her opening introduction:
“With this venerable tradition in mind, when I approached writers about contributing to this anthology, I made one condition: no evil doll stories. While these writers could and did mine the uncanniness of dolls for all it’s worth, I did not want to publish a collection of stories revolving around the cliché of the evil doll. Surely, I thought, there was horror and darkness to be found in the world of dolls beyond that well-trodden path.”
It’s impressive how many different ways that The Doll Collection can spin a horror story, but have the central point of terror not focus on the trope of the possessed doll. Often the scare comes from the humans in the story, who sometimes wield dolls or come into contact with them. In quite a number of the stories, corpses represent the idea of dolls, as they are lifeless, humanoid beings. There’s an amazing range of tales found in this anthology, and fans of both horror and good writing will not want to miss out on this one – no matter how much they might want to close their eyes and scream.
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